My life at work: what do we need? A union

Submitted by Newcastle on 5 November, 2009 - 10:39 Author: Naomi Barrett

Naomi Barrett works in a bakery in Yorkshire.

Tell us a little bit about the work you do.

I work in a food outlet. It calls itself a bakery, but the goods are made at a bake house and then delivered to each shop in the morning. It’s a small South Yorkshire chain, family owned. My colleagues and I amend the order for daily deliveries, prepare the food made on site (things like salads and fillings), serve customers (make their sandwiches etc), and keep the shop clean. It’s pretty mind numbing, but it’s a “local shop”, so we have a lot of banter with old ladies.

Do you and your workmates get the pay and conditions you deserve?

We’re all on minimum wage. I think my last pay rise brought me up to £5.80. So yes, we’re underpaid. Although the job isn’t stressful, all the women that work at the shop besides me have families to support. It’s a nice environment to work in because I’m lucky enough to have decent colleagues and a personable manager (although she’s a bit bonkers), but it can be very boring. If I were stuck in a space that small and everyone were horrible it would be a different story.

Do you enjoy your work?

Yes, but I do several other jobs to support myself. If I were just at the bakery I would go nuts; I don’t feel I’m making the most of my time or my brain while I’m there. I’m just making people ham sandwiches repeatedly. I get a lot of free cake however…

What are your bosses like?

My manager is a nice person, although she has to be in control. She would take it personally if we were to query our working conditions or pay. She thinks we get treated incredibly well because we receive holiday pay! She tries hard to keep employees she gets on with, so she’s very enthusiastic about all the perks. She’s on our side, fiddling the hours so we don’t go without wages, even when we’ve been unofficially off etc. The shop is so small, you couldn’t organise anything without her finding out, and she’s after a quiet life. The rest of the women are apolitical too. One said she understood that the recent local strikes by posties and the buses were fueled by greed. It’s difficult to argue about e.g. strikes when customers are in and out of the shop.

The boss of the chain visits our shop irregularly. She just snoops a bit, like an inspector, but mainly she’s after a sandwich. She has a chat with our manager and then sometimes complains about things she notices we do wrong. My manager tends to use this information when she has a personal vendetta against one of us. We have secret shoppers who do the real inspecting. It means a lot to my manager that we get 100%.

Is there are union in your workplace? Does it do a good job?

No, but I’m an individual member of the GMB.

If you could change one thing about your workplace what would it be?

Union recognition, which would hopefully encourage more discussion about the working environment from our perspective, not just the customer’s important view.

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